At 2pm my friend sent me a WhatsApp message to tell me that she was attending a vigil at the General Post Office at 5.30pm that evening, asking whether I would be interested in joining. She asked the right person. I am a firm believer in taking to the streets and vocally expressing my annoyance. Give me a placard about an issue that I support, and I am yours forever.
Unlike the French, the people of Ireland are notoriously passive and resigned when it comes to issues adversely affecting us. We seem to shrug our shoulders and accept the most heinous, corrupt outcomes for ourselves. Is this a legacy of colonialism? I don’t know. But it is frustrating for someone like me, who first took to the streets in protest at during Ireland’s nascent gay pride movement in the 1990’s.
The Irish Water charges seemed to mark a change. Irish people seemed to wake up when we realised that the government wanted to start charging us for water through a freshly created billing company, when in fact we were already paying handsomely for water through tax, and that this was merely an attempt to privatise a national resource. The hundreds of thousands that took to the streets to oppose this sent a message that sometimes direct action is positive and good.
Tonight’s vigil was in solidarity with the hundreds of Irish women impacted by the cervical cancer outrage.
Some background for those outside Ireland might be necessary here. On 26 April 2018 the state-run Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed that 209 women had developed cervical cancer after having a misdiagnosed CervicalCheck smear test. The screening of these tests had been outsourced by the Irish government to a US laboratory some years earlier, because of how cheap the lab was. To date 18 women have died unnecessarily from misdiagnosis of cervical cancer because of the Fine Gael government’s relentless campaign to privatise the public’s health for profit.
The scandal was exposed when Vicky Phelan – who is now suffering from terminal cancer – refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement when she reached a settlement with the lab, after she sued them. When she went public the scandal erupted with a fury.
The government is all apologetic and patronising, pretending to care. Meanwhile the CEO of the HSE – one Tony O’Brien has received a massive pay off and has retired on full pension, even though he knew that women’s lives were at risk because of the shoddy US lab. The same shoddy US lab that is STILL doing the screening of smear tests.
People are angry, and justifiably so. However as this it Ireland unless people take to the streets, there will be zero accountability. There will be a tribunal of inquiry lasting several years, costing millions of euro, but nothing will change.
The vigil was quiet to start with. Too quiet in fact. A proper loudspeaker would have been a wise idea. I couldn’t hear a word.
However, when the spontaneous march was announced my heart soared. I do love a protest. Especially this kind. A group of passionate people taking to the streets in solidarity to express their rage, without prior approval. It was quite chaotic. And disruptive. I had sympathy for the drivers of the stalled traffic as they had no warning. No-one was in danger though as the traffic on Ireland’s main thoroughfare is always slow.
After our jaunt up and down O’Connell Street we re-assembled back at the GPO – that iconic symbol of Irish revolution.
‘What do we want? Accountability. When do we want it? Now!’ we all sang.
I am very proud that my own – slightly controversial – slogan was also bellowed by the assembled crowd.
Ireland is voting to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution which bans abortion entirely in Ireland.
‘Repeal’ is a word in common use among the more liberal folk.
I thought my phrase ‘Repeal the HSE’ was also quite topical – if slightly confrontational.
Happily, many agreed with me.
All together now.
‘REPEAL THE H.S.E.’